The cornerstone of any beneficial yoga practice, whether you are a child or an adult, is that it is just that...a practice. Unlike sports, yoga is not competitive. You do not train to get better and more skillful. That happens through repeatedly showing up on your mat and moving in whatever way feels right that day. You never master yoga. You are always in practice.
Of course, you may set personal goals and have particular poses that you want to achieve, but it's only about you. No judgments, no losses, no bad games. Everyday is different. Somedays you may ease into tree pose and feel like you could hang out there all day. Other days, you are a tree dancing in the wind and you can't find balance for the life of you! But it's all okay. Every time you get yourself on the mat is a gift and you will end up getting exactly what it is you need that day, whether you know what that is at the start of class or not.
For these reasons, yoga is such a deep, rich and positive practice for children. It offers them so much personal learning and introducing your children to it, is the greatest, lifelong gift you could give them. Here are a few reasons why:
1.) Yoga promotes body awareness.
Many children do not have a relationship with their bodies in which they know and understand how it feels at its worst and ways to help it feel its best. Yoga allows kids to test out the limits of what their muscles can do using only their own body weight and learn that they can do things that they never thought possible.
2.) Yoga eases stress.
Let's face it. The world can be busy, overstimulating, overwhelming, rushed and confusing...and that's for us adults! Now imagine you are 20-30-40 years younger feeling the same way! Yoga and learning various breathing techniques helps kids learn about their central nervous system and what is happening to their bodies and minds when they are stressed. Because yoga is only about the person practicing, it allows kids to get inside their own minds and bodies and tune in. They learn real and lasting ways to manage their own negative feelings. There is a lot of power in that!
3.) Yoga increases focus.
In yoga, you are constantly reminded to focus on your breath, to be in the present moment and to tune in to your body. Through doing so, kids fine tune their ability to shut out distractions and attend to the here and now.
4.) Yoga teaches self-acceptance.
If you have ever practiced yoga in a studio as an adult, chances are you have been told by the yoga instructor that your pose looks beautiful, that you are amazing, that every pose in the room should look different because it's about what's perfect for you. Practicing yoga and everything that comes along with it puts your child in a positive, supportive, encouraging environment where they are made to feel perfectly imperfect. Who couldn't move mountains feeling that way?!
5.) Yoga is as much about mental health as it is about physical health.
When I first set out to try yoga, it was as a physical way to get some exercise after having my first child. Little did I know that the exercise and muscle lengthening and strengthening that it provides, would become secondary. I believe that it is of #1 importance (for everyone, not just children) to be socially and emotionally healthy. We aren't born knowing how to handle certain situations and feelings that we face as we grow, yet we will experience them anyway. I hold learning about our social and emotional needs as a pinnacle part in every class I teach regardless of the age. Knowledge is truly power and when you are able to understand and confront uncomfortable social and emotional hurdles, nothing seems defeating. Yoga and these teachings gives kids the tools to proactively handle their problems and not feel hopeless.
6.) Yoga increases flexibility, muscle lengthening and strength.
It can be overlooked as a fitness outlet, but if you have ever held yourself up in a Downward Facing Dog or in Warrior II, you can attest to the fact that yoga builds muscle. Yes, there are parts of class and many asanas that focus on stretching you out and are extremely relaxing, but there is a level of challenge in holding a pose for an extended period of time. With continued practice, yoga makes for a strong, steady and flexible body. *Bonus* This can also help prevent injury!
So as you can see, there are numerous benefits to be gifted from a consistent practice of yoga. The weight that each of the benefits listed above carry, is massive and together create a happy, resilient, positive and healthy life!